Integrating mobile learning into the classroom
At the height of the digital revolution, teachers everywhere established a strict no cell phone use in the classroom policy in an effort to control their students. Their intentions were noble: They wanted to ensure that their students would avoid digital distraction and pay attention in class. Today, as digital technology permeates all aspects of students’ lives, teachers are embracing the mobile learning phenomenon.
What explains this sudden shift? It’s not that students have suddenly started to use technology less, or that technology developments have slowed down. To the contrary, students have established a “second self” online, and their smart phones, which are always on and always on them, serve as digital limbs.
Instead, the rest of the world has learned to adapt to the digital natives. This includes teachers, who increasingly must meet today’s students where they are if they want to succeed. And where are today’s students? Somewhere between the digital realm and physical realm, in which technology integration into daily life is seamless.
Who Do Some Teachers Resist Mobile Learning?
Mobile learning is learning across different mobile devices, and it’s related to the latest bring your own device (BYOD) trend that is taking over the workplace. Rather than have students use a school’s outdated technology, or worse, no technology at all, the concept of mobile learning presumes that students prefer to use their personal devices. In a sense, students can bring the classroom with them when they go to school in the morning, and take it with them when they leave in the afternoon.
There are many benefits to this, but before discussing them, it’s important to acknowledge the perceived drawbacks. There are five reasons why some teachers are still reluctant to integrate mobile learning into the classroom. They are:
1. Teachers fear that mobile learning will distract students.
2. Teachers fear that mobile learning will lead to screen addiction.
3. Teachers fear that mobile learning will perpetuate the cycle of cyber-bullying.
4. Teachers fear that mobile learning will facilitate cheating and plagiarism.
5. Teachers fear that mobile learning will make their presence in the classroom obsolete.
These fears are understandable, if unrealistic. While it’s true that there are negative aspects of digital technology, and in a mobile learning environment, some students will take advantage, the same amount of students already take advantage of the traditional classroom today.
It’s easy to worry about technology integration, but such worries assume that all is well with the traditional classroom. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many of the scenarios teachers fear with mobile learning are already happening in the traditional classroom.
Mobile Learning Enhances Student Engagement
In the traditional classroom, teachers struggle to engage their students. Part of this has to due with the generally acknowledged truth that school is an obligation for students and they’d much rather be playing outside with their friends. When students have to sit in a classroom for days on end, it makes sense that they’d get bored from time to time.
However, education experts are starting to realize that students are also distracted in the classroom because traditional teaching practices fail to excite them. Rote memorization, oral recitations and standardized test don’t give students a reason to pay attention and love school. The same dry, stale textbooks aren’t exactly the page turners that will entice students to read. In other words, students view school as a chore because much of what they’re asked to do on a day-to-day basis is boring.
Teachers can change this by integrating mobile learning into the classroom. The simplest way to do this is to use LiveTiles Mosaic to design an exciting digital classroom. Mosaic is a free UI design solution that sits on top of SharePoint and can be used by any K-12 class with an Office 365 tenant. With its user-friendly drag and drop function, teachers can add pre-configured Office 365 apps like Word, OneNote and PowerPoint and cloud-based services like Yammer and OneDrive to make learning fun again. As the screen shot below illustrates, this mobile-friendly digital classroom is bound to engage students.
Students Can Learn How to Combat Screen Addiction
It’s reasonable for teachers to worry about screen addiction, but mobile learning won’t cause it. Just like schools do with drugs and alcohol, teachers can show students the negative consequences of screen addiction, and how to develop a healthy relationship with their mobile devices. This is one of the key aspects of mobile learning—to show students how to control their devices, and not let their devices control them.
Easier said than done, perhaps, but teachers can use Mosaic to inform students about screen addiction. For example, the Ted Talks tile can lead students to intriguing videos in which medical professionals discuss addiction. Ted Talks videos like Judson Brewer’s nine minute “A simple way to break a bad habit” will cause students to think about the ways they’re using digital technology, and whether or not they have to change their practices to avoid addiction.
Still, teachers can only do so much. They aren’t responsible for their students’ lifestyle choices outside of class, and they shouldn’t be held accountable if one of their students develops an unhealthy addiction to digital technology.
The Digital Classroom is Not a Place for Cyber-Bullies
It’s true that bullying is a problem, but as youth researchers Alice Marwick and dinah boyd point out in their op-ed published in The New York Times, teachers should distinguish between legitimate, life-threatening bullying and the daily dramas of teenage life. That is, most of what teachers consider to be bullying today has existed for decades, and is just part of growing up.
At the same time, journalist Emily Bazelon makes an interesting point when she posits that the so-called “bullying epidemic” may be overstated, however today’s cyber-bullying is more powerful than yesterday’s traditional schoolyard bullying because it can occur 24/7.
Teachers shouldn’t worry too much, though, because they can monitor their students’ interactions in the digital classroom across mobile devices and quickly take action if there is ever a legitimate case of cyber-bullying. While teachers can’t be the protectors of the world, they can ensure that the digital classroom is a safe space where cyber-bullying will not be tolerated.
How do teachers do this, exactly? With Mosaic, teachers can add a Yammer tile to the digital classroom and moderate the interactions. Yammer is a fun social media tool that allows students and teachers to converse outside of school. Students can use Yammer to ask questions or share important insights about a particular subject, and teachers can use it to make announcements or clarify a confusing concept. Yammer has many benefits, and teachers shouldn’t let a few cyber-bullies ruin it for everyone.
Since Yammer is a social space, and since students will access it outside of class, teachers may fear that some students will engage in cyber-bullying. These fears are unfounded because teachers can regulate the Yammer feed and immediately remove any offensive or inappropriate content.
Mobile Learning Encourages Creativity
Why do students cheat? This is an age-old question that teachers are still trying to solve. Some students cheat because they are pressed for time, but many others do so because they do not feel as if the assignment matters, such as homework or other “busywork.” Students will be less likely to cheat if they feel as if their assignments have educational value.
Mobile learning encourages classroom creativity and allows students to feel invested in their work. With Mosaic, teachers can add the Sway tile and have their students create interactive websites. Perhaps teachers can weave in a lesson about plagiarism in the process.
For example, students can use Sway to create presentations that focus on the implications of cheating, how to source materials or the fine line between copying and “culture jamming.” This can be a fun way to engage students with their work and educate them about the consequences of cheating.
If teachers use Sway to assign interactive group work, they can make cheating somewhat inconsequential. That is, by encouraging students to work together, the idea of copying another student’s work wouldn’t be an issue. Classroom collaboration would be the new norm, and students would be expected to share their ideas and insights with each other.
What about those students who may skate by without putting in as much effort as others? To avoid this, teachers can ensure that the collaborative assignments are engaging—something students don’t mind completing. It’s also fair to assume that if students have to work together, those typically lazy students will feel pressured to put in their fair share. It sounds a bit mischievous, but a little social shaming goes a long way, and lazy students might not want to risk alienating their peers by slacking off on collaborative assignments.
Many education experts believe that collaborative assignments benefit students, which means that classroom collaboration would simultaneously solve the cheating problem and make students more proficient in their studies.
Teachers Can Still Make a Difference
Perhaps the biggest reason why teachers are reluctant to integrate mobile learning is that they fear digital technology will replace them. These technophobic concerns can be situated within a broader historical context, in which a panicked group of people have always warned about the technology takeover.
In the 19th century, for example, the Luddites rejected the newly developed technologies in England because they believed this technology would lower their wages, or worse, replace their jobs entirely.
The same anxieties are being echoed today by people who claim that digital technology will make today’s contemporary workforce obsolete. Even Bill Gates and Stephan Hawking, two of the most influential voices in the world, express concern about the rise of artificial intelligence. It makes sense,
then, that those remaining teachers who won’t embrace mobile learning are thinking about the future of their careers, and whether or not they’ll be needed in decades to come.
The truth is that technology, for all of its wonderful benefits, cannot replace teachers. Think about it: Just as the invention of the overheard projector or the white board increased teacher productivity and improved student engagement, the advent of digital technology will similarly make teachers and students more effective. That being said, teachers who embrace technology are more likely to succeed than those who resist the inevitable digital revolution.
Technology is just a tool, and it’s up to the individual to decide how to use it. Committed teachers who seriously think about exciting ways to integrate mobile learning will actually be more involved in the learning process because they will need to guide their students in the right direction. It’s not productive or practical for teachers to put students in front of their mobile devices and let them run wild. Basic teacher skills like efficient classroom management, engaging instruction and effective student engagement will still apply.
Ultimately, in order for mobile learning to be successful, teachers will be needed to guide their students to use digital technology in productive ways. By creating a digital classroom, teachers will be one step closer to achieving this goal.